Dinesh D’Souza — Confused Chameleon?
Making sense of how an immigrant form India became a mouthpiece for America’s right-wing.
July 3, 2019
Dinesh D’Souza is no longer a federal convict thanks to Trump’s pardon last year. Prosecuted under the previous administration, D’Souza was serving confinement in San Diego for illegal campaign contributions — a charge which he says was ‘selective prosecution’ in retaliation for his scathing books on Obama and democrats. What makes D’Souza interesting, however, it is not the pardon nor his hard-right, anti-liberal views — for those themselves are not unique — but rather that those views come from a non-Anglo immigrant.
It is no secret white conservatives have a fetish with minority outliers who espouse their ideologies — Ben Carson, Ada Fisher, and even Milo Yiannopoulos — fit the bill. After all it affords two valuable opportunities for surrogacy — the first to push the envelope of positions beyond what would be tolerated from the majority (e.g. suggesting blacks ought to thank America for ending slavery); and second, the opportunity to place that spokesperson on their shoulders and declare, “See, our views are not racist or anti-immigrant for he is them yet he agrees with us!”
But, how does a brown man from India come to espouse opinions that are not just conservative (for of course conservatism also exists in India) but are aligned to the unique brand of American conservatism? Some Indian-Hindus, for instance, have always had some alignment with questionable hard-right views — such as a sweeping disdain for Muslims — but the Venn diagram overlap ends there. In the case of D’Souza’s views, however, the two circles seem completely transposed like a full solar eclipse.
Like Dinesh, I too grew up in Mumbai — perhaps the most diverse and tolerant city in the world when socio-economic, religion and race are all factored into a single equation. And, also like D’Souza, I spent a substantial portion of my post-Mumbai life in perhaps the clean, wealthy, and predominantly white San Diego suburbs. Beyond our graying hair, apparent affinity for black rimmed glasses and admiration of Alexis de Tocqueville, our superficial similarities likely end there.
Like most Indian-American immigrants, I was raised in a traditional Hindu family that aligned with the prevailing ethos of Indian culture — whereas D’Souza, the son of Roman-Catholics, grew up speaking English and was from more well-to-do means. While in appearance he’d have been indistinguishable from the majority, by religion he was a true minority back in our home country. (D’ Souza is a Portuguese given surname reflecting a time centuries ago when Catholic missionaries in southern-India persecuted Hindus and Muslims for practicing those religions rather than Christianity.)
When one voluntarily emigrates anywhere his moral suitcase is automatically packed with the staples of liberalism, not conservatism; for immigration is inherently a vessel provided by liberty -and boarded out of a desire to be liberated — a true conservative would, of course, not migrate but stand his mother-ground and cultivate his ideologies back into the soil from which they sprouted. D’Souza, on the other-hand, came to the US packing views (or rather quite rapidly adopted views) that aligned with what he says are ‘conserving the principles of the American revolution.’ How he so quickly prevailed over the same forces that I still grapple with 35 years later as an Indian-American is bewildering — and I can only conclude that it is what made D’Souza a minority in India that gave him tremendous advantage in assimilating to America — his Christianity.
Assimilation is a complex molecule made up of mannerisms, language, appearance, culture and morals — all moving around the nucleus of religion. D’Souza, being a Catholic, did not have to climb over the obstacles of his eastern-religious thinking (for he had none) to get on the same footing with the American majority and their Judeo-Christian foundations. Moreover, his Catholic upbringing in India surely taught him that through the lens of his church they were in fact not a minority at all, but rather of moral superiority — this was of course the whole basis of colonialism and Christian missionaries in India.
Consequently, D’Souza was able to turn assimilation into fabulous and unprecedented success — for most Indians are still tracked to achieving ‘success’ in America on the stereotypical ‘doctor or engineer’ rails. But as an intellectual Catholic brown-guy, with a knack for invective writing, and Ivy-League credentials, he could take provocative American positions that were not necessarily new, but gained attention in the same way a barking cat would. For instance, in his book “Enemy at Home” he blames the September 11 attacks entirely on leftist culture — everything from Hollywood to liberal ‘tolerance for divorce.’
In a way, assimilation for the immigrant is to be like a chameleon -to change his colors (figurative but perhaps even literal) so as to blend in with his environment. But, even the chameleon at some point changes back to his original color. With Dinesh D’Souza, it is unclear what that color is. In a recent Vanity Fair interview, it seems as if spending time in federal confinement, with predominantly Hispanic incarcerated men, may be rubbing through D’Souzas conservative veneer. He is said to be more sympathetic to immigration laws, and had even taken to teaching English to the Spanish speakers. Is this a sign that the Indian immigrant may be moving towards more pragmatic viewpoints? Or perhaps it is just yet another round of assimilation — a defense mechanism for the intellectually incarcerated.